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Kouta is the male lead and secondary protagonist in the manga and anime series, Elfen Lied. He is the love interest of three major characters, including the series' lead, and a makeshift father figure to two others. Kouta has no super powers nor extraordinary skills, but his compassion and kindness may in the end have turned back an evolutionary apocalypse.
Except that he was born and raised in Hokkaido, nothing is known of Kouta's life prior to the summer he, his father, and his little sister Kanae went to Kamakura, a Japanese beachside resort town, to stay with Kouta's aunt and her daughter, Yuka. It can be inferred that his mother died sometime after giving birth to Kanae, but nothing is ever said of this, or the fate of Yuka's father. Like most characters in the series, Kouta has only one name offered up, in this case his given one. At some point during or before this stay, Yuka developed a deep crush on Kouta (cousin relationships are legal in Japan), but while he liked her as well, he found her attentions a bit much, a situation not helped by Kanae's resentment of Yuka. While walking up one of the mountains in the area, Kouta met a girl who would literally change his life forever.
Oddly, he did not learn her name at this time, and her true name was only revealed at the very end of the manga series. But this was the girl who was to become the series' protagonist and a very stark mixture of hero and villain, Lucy (although she was not yet called by that name, and in fact almost never used it to describe herself). Unknown to Kouta, she was already on a bloody path, and his offer of friendship, regarded with suspicion at first, brought light to an empty soul, though only for a time, and at an unimaginably high price to Kouta.
The girl had pinkish-red hair, and atop her head she had small protrusions that looked like cat-ears but which were actually horns made out of cartilage. Young Lucy had been teased, taunted and isolated her whole life for these, both by other children and adult staff at the nearby orphanage where she had grown up after being abandoned at birth. This cruel treatment finally culminated in a dark incident that all but sealed her hatred of other people. That incident had the result of unleashing latent telekinetic powers, with which she murdered the four classmates involved. Her time with Kouta might have been enough to save her, but for a tragic misunderstanding.
Beyond any shadow of any doubt, the brief time the two spent together was the happiest day of this girl's sorry life. But if Kouta liked his new friend, the girl was head over heels in love with him, something that reared its head in jealousy when she asked him whether the cousin he was taking to a carnival was a boy or a girl. Kouta lied, though out of concern, not malice, and said that his cousin was a boy. Seeing how fragile her feelings were, Kouta had attempted to spare her, but this small choice would seal their fates.
At the summer festival, Kouta comforted Yuka, who was despondent over his family leaving for Hokkaido soon after. As he held her, he was seen by the horned girl, who took this small lie to be the same as another betrayal in her fragile mind. Turning against Humanity once and for all, the girl killed several people at the festival, an act witnessed by Kanae. Kanae's account of this was dismissed by everyone as ridiculous, even to Kouta and their father, who decided to leave for home that very night by train. Onboard the train, the horned girl emerged from hiding, intending to punish Kouta for his betrayal. Still disbelieved and attempting to protect her older brother, Kanae was scorned by him for what he saw as lying. Those words of hate would be the last they would ever speak to each other, as the horned girl used her powers to split Kanae in two at the waist, killing her instantly. Kouta was not only scarred by the murder, but by the realization that Kanae had been telling the truth, and that his last words to her could now never be taken back. Adding to the horror, as their father came over to see what had happened, he was decapitated, with his head tossed at Kouta's feet. Kouta broke into sobs, covered by his family's blood and cradling Kanae's upper half. When the girl who had been his friend then said she was next going to kill Yuka, Kouta jumped on her, demanding she stop killing people. Somewhere in his demeanor, the girl gleaned that Kouta had never meant to hurt her, and that she had crossed a line she could never go back from. Escaping the train, the girl vowed to one day go back to Kouta and apologize for her actions.
But in large part, the damage had been done. Kouta spent a year in a psychiatric care facility, where he regained his coherence and sanity, but at the cost of suppressing his childhood memories, particularly of that summer in Kamakura. It is not known who cared for him in the years between his release and the start of the series. Once quite sharp, it seems Kouta's traumas or the memory suppression left him lacking focus, and in the end, all he could get into was a so-called 'safety school', the rough equivalent of an American Community College, for students lacking grades to enter better schools. This school turned out to be in Kamakura, where he had spent that fateful summer. Little did Kouta realize he was walking into ground zero for a world-altering, centuries-spanning conspiracy.
When she learned that her cousin was returning after all these years, Yuka, who had never given up her deep crush on Kouta, gave up on much more prestigious colleges she easily had the grades for and signed up to be in the same school as him.
The horned girl, while remorseful over hurting Kouta, stayed in the Kamakura Area, likely never leaving the Kanto Region of Japan, infecting males to become the fathers of new horned girls, called Diclonius, while inducing blood-vessel problems, including heart-attacks and strokes, in many others. In the five years she was active, many died at her hands, and at the hands of these new horned girls (Male births were somehow very rare to non-existent), who attacked their families after reaching the age of three. It is not known for certain whether these attacks occurred because the girls were mistreated, an inborn drive to kill Humans, or simply the mercurial nature of a three-year old child. Eventually, the existence of the horned girl, the 'Queen' of her new species, was reasoned out by scientists studying the outbreak of horned births, and she was pursued by them. Taking a chance on an absued girl name Aiko Takada, the horned girl became her friend and tried to protect and aid her when Aiko was accused of killing her abusive father. Sadly, Aiko was killed by Doctor Kurama, who had been trying to shoot the horned girl, who surrendered herself to get aid for Aiko. When she was informed while in captivity that Aiko had died, the horned girl now added making Kurama suffer to her goal of reuniting with Kouta. She would accomplish both. During her time of captivity, the horned girl was named Lucy by her captors, after a fossil skeleton of an Australopithecus woman once thought to be the genetic ancestor of Humankind (older fossils have been found since Elfen Lied concluded). It should be noted that Lucy was never this girl's name, nor was it a name she herself used, nor did anyone she regarded as friendly or close to her in any way.
The Events Of The Elfen Lied Series
Return to Kamakura
Lucy seized an opportunity and staged a bloody escape that ended with her taking a head wound that rendered her childlike and amnesiac. Kouta, meanwhile, had returned to Kamakura without any memories of his earlier visit, due to the trauma of his family's murder. Yuka, who had believed he would remember her, was sad and upset when he did not. When a naked girl washed up on the beach, Yuka gave her some of Kouta's clothing and suggested they take her to the Maple Inn, a former restaurant Yuka's mother was allowing Kouta to stay in while at school, under a maintenance agreement. They named her Nyu, for the only sound her infantile mind seemed capable of forming.
Nyu, who felt all of the affection for Kouta Lucy did with none of the baggage, saw that a memento of his lost little sister was making him sad, and so broke it, enraging Kouta and scaring Nyu off. At first Yuka and then Kouta went to fetch the childlike girl back. On his way out, Kouta encountered two policemen who asked about a girl who seemed to be Nyu, at first saying that she was a dangerous killer before switching stories and saying she was merely lost. In fact, at least some members of the Kamakura Police Department were fully aware of who and what Lucy was. Kouta walked back to the beachfront and found Nyu, digging through the shoreline for a shell to replace the one she'd broken. On some level, the two old friends recognized each other, traumas on various levels keeping this down. The manga and the anime differ as to whether Yuka was present, but in any event, the two were found by members of Japan's Special Assault Team, sent out to collect or kill Lucy. One of these, the acerbic, arrogant and violent Agent Bando, would become a recurring figure in their lives. Regarding Kouta as an obstacle, he knocked him out, and began to demand Nyu provide him with the battle his violent soul demanded. The uncomprehending, terrified Nyu could not oblige, so he kicked and punched at her, till another blow to the head awakened Lucy, who gave him the fight he wanted, and the dismemberment he would vow to avenge.
Kouta awoke in the hospital, with Yuka (who was, version depending, either knocked out before him or simply not present for the attack) having no knowledge of the soldiers they encountered. Questioned by police as to his injuries (version depending, the exact same police who had spoken to him earlier), Kouta was urged to let the matter drop, increasing his suspicions of the department's loyalties. When he returned to Maple Inn (also known as Maple House, or Kaede-Sou), he found Nyu cold and weeping, her personality having reverted from the murderous Lucy, tellingly when Lucy sighted the replacement sea shell Nyu had found for Kouta. Attempting to be a gentleman while helping Nyu change out of her wet clothes, Kouta hit upon a pattern for his life to come. Yuka walked in just as he (eyes closed) had her shirt pulled up to her breasts and her pants down, with her legs raised up in the air. After a customary tsundere reaction to this awkward scene, Yuka decided to move into Maple Inn with the two, since Kouta felt he could no longer turn Nyu over to the police as he'd originally planned. Yuka had snarkily told him she would keep an eye on any antics he would try and pull with the mature-bodied but baby-minded Nyu, but both her anger and her sarcasm quickly became ashes in her throat. A casual comment from Kouta, who was recovering from a fever, one which Nyu comically tried to aid him in recovering from ( in a scene very similar to Momo aiding the feverish Sokka and Katara in Avatar The Last Airbender ), told Yuka a horrifying truth. While she knew well of what happened to her Uncle and cousin eight years before, when she heard Kouta speak of their deaths, his story had no relation to what had happened, with of course neither one knowing that the feeble girl they now cared for had been the one responsible. Not for the first time, Yuka encountered regret and frustration, realizing that Kouta's lack of recall of their time together was in fact a defense mechanism against those brutal memories. While her track record in dealing with this remained mixed, she sought to care for both Kouta and Nyu. They realized that the battle on the beach had lost one of them their umbrella, but another new figure in their lives would be bringing that back soon.
Adopting Mayu, Losing Nyu
Unknown to Kouta and the combatants, at least one other person was on the beach the night Lucy and Bando fought. Living on the beach was a young runaway girl named Mayu, fleeing sexual and emotional abuse, and caring for a small dog she named Wanta. When Mayu comes to Maple House to return the umbrella (who lost it and when depends on the version) Mayu is able to confirm to Yuka that there were soldiers on the beach that night, one of whom, the wounded Bando, whose life she saved. Mayu departed after a much-needed meal, but was understandably reluctant to offer up any information about herself. But her path led right back to Kouta and Yuka when she encountered the girl named Nyu, who she had met while returning the umbrella. Unknown to everyone, while Mayu was in the house, a blow to the head caused Nyu to once again become Lucy, who fled the house rather than potentially harm Kouta. In fact it was Lucy that Mayu encountered, locked in battle with another of her horned species, a Diclonius named Nana. When Mayu caused a distraction, the gentler Nana tried to warn her off, and Lucy used this opening to begin to dismember Nana. Knocked away rather than killed, Mayu was taken to the hospital and avoided dealing with her abusive family by having the hospital call Kouta. Learning that Mayu was homeless and realizing she must have a reason for running away (though in the narrative they never learned this), Kouta and Yuka resolved to offer her a permanent place to stay. At first reluctant due to the pain she suffered and suspicious of such kindness, Mayu found circumstances offering her no choice. That said, she immediately found safety, comfort and some happiness in her new home. So that Mayu could go to school by them, they got her to open up and tell them where her mother lived. While the mother was civil enough, her willingness to sign over custody to strangers raised alarm bells for the young cousins. Out of courtesy to Mayu, they asked no more of it. The pair, despite only being in their teens, in effect became Mayu's parents, and her demeanor brightened immediately.
Yet life with the rambunctious Nyu would complicate even that. With Lucy's love for Kouta combined with a mature body and a child's curiosity, Nyu knew little of boundaries, proven when she climbed into a bath with a badly flustered Kouta, being caught by Mayu, who for a time became suspicious that Kouta was a sexual predator, like the stepfather she had fled. Attempting to keep Nyu under control, Kouta and Yuka found once again that it was their lives that were out of their control.
Kouta and Yuka were caring, smart, but not even as worldly as the girl they had in essence adopted. This was demonstrated when they were forced to bring Nyu to their college classes, wherein Professor Kakuzawa, once head of the facility where Lucy had been held, recognized her immediately. Tricking the young couple into surrendering their charge to him, only Mayu later questioned his supposed relation to Nyu. While Lucy awoke and dispatched this schemer as she did so many, Kouta went on a search to find Nyu, only to meet the Professor's ambitious (if awkward) assistant, Doctor Arakawa, with whom he found the Professor's severed head. Kouta took in her words about horned people being a threat, but still kept on searching for Nyu. This time venturing out with Yuka, a sudden downpour forced them to seek shelter, where Kouta admitted he recalled some parts of his feelings for Yuka, at least in a broad sense. This situation had the two kissing intimately, till the rain stopped and they found Nyu, who was Lucy at this time. To her credit, Lucy, who had just recalled the tragic events of their childhoods, tried to admit who she was, but panicked at the thought of losing Kouta and reverted to Nyu. Returning home to Maple House, normalcy of a sort set in when Nyu assaulted all three of her housemates in her sexually curious manner, ironically taking some of the edge off of Mayu's suspicions, since Nyu was now firmly shown to be a problem in this regard.
In one of the biggest differences between the manga and anime versions of the story, a new housemate entered the scene, ironically one of the only characters to make Elfen Lied a 'harem' story besides Lucy and Yuka. Her name was Nozomi, Yuka's school kohai and a gifted singer whose family opposed her ambitions. While she too suffered Nyu's attentions (including a very controversial scene), she also ended up teaching her and by extension, Lucy, the poem/song Elfenlied, for which the series is named. With Kouta's encouragement, Nozomi used Maple House to practice in and seek relief from her father's ferocious opposition to her singing career.
While the next and final housemate (in both versions) would not be a member of any harem, she would prove as important as Kouta or even Lucy, in many respects. In fact, while affection would grow between the two over time, Kouta would rarely struggle as fiercely as he did with Nana, now somewhat recovered from her brutal battle with Lucy. Nana would enter the house with a bang.
Not knowing the history between the two horned girls, including Lucy's gleeful dismemberment of Nana, Kouta only saw his friend Nyu being attacked for no reason by a complete stranger. Slapping Nana, he chased her off, and she fled in tears. Eventually brought back by Mayu, Nana came to realize, partly by inference, and partly by her sense of another Diclonius, that Nyu and Lucy were two separate beings. She apologized, and she and Kouta came to an understanding, aided by her realizing Kouta's terms for living in Maple House were not that harsh. Kouta's need to aid young girls in distress due to his failure to believe and protect Kanae was once again demonstrated when Nana left the house to battle Mariko Kurama, another Diclonius who was the actual daughter of the man Nana considered her Papa. The two versions of the series differ strongly on Kouta's role in these events.
In the manga, Kouta followed Nana to Enoshima (an island beach park easily accessible to Kamakura) with Nyu in tow, only to be stopped by a police blockade. Losing track of the childlike Nyu when she vaulted the blockade, Kouta was there to collect a battered Nana and Nyu after the death of Mariko and the loss of Nyu's horns, seemingly getting rid of Lucy once and for all. On the walk home, Kouta carried Nana on his back and she noted that he asked no questions about what had happened. While she was grateful for this, it perhaps also signaled Kouta's subconscious knowledge that too many questions could end their peaceful pleasant lives at Maple House. The manga series then did a six-month timeskip, after which it was indicated that Nana and Kouta were at peace, Yuka's crush on Kouta was evident, and that perhaps Mayu was over her direct fear of Kouta, though not of men in general.
In the anime, Kouta follows Nana as well, but in this case, he and Nyu find the police blockade knocked unconscious, perhaps by Nana, but this is never confirmed and causes some plotholes. That said, Kouta arrives in Enoshima just as Mariko is having brutal sport with Nana. The younger Diclonius even threatens Kouta's life, causing Nana to disable Mariko's vectors (her invisible telekinetic 'arms') just before she is removed from the scene. When Nyu follows him there, her Lucy persona is awakened, and her murder of one of Mariko's handlers in turn awakens Kouta's repressed memories. Having it out with Lucy over her wrongs against him, Kouta admits that while he loves her, he cannot forgive her murder of his family. After Lucy departs, seemingly to her death in battle, Kouta goes back to Maple House, living in peace with his makeshift family, although the inconclusive anime series still has the major villain of the piece as an active threat. At the last scene of the show (as of 2016), a figure appears at the Maple House entrance, implied to be Lucy, or Nyu without her horns.
The anime and manga part ways here, and as the manga story continues, events conspire to make Kouta question once again who his new friends really are. At school, he, Yuka and Nyu (who now behaved like a young woman and spoke coherently) encountered one of Chief Kakuzawa's employees, Doctor Arakawa, who was on a quest to locate Lucy, and who ironically grabbed Nyu 'hostage' until she realized the killer she so feared was right in her hands, allowing the trio to flee. At this same time, a far grimmer operative invaded their home at Maple House, injuring Nana, nearly killing Wanta and almost raping Mayu. Kouta and the others returned from one near-miss only to face another in the form of Bando, who turned back the home invader and who bore a deep grudge against Lucy. Immediately shooting Nyu, Bando triggered her turn into Lucy, who agreed to settle their fight down by the beachfront. Shoved aside by Bando and disregarded by Lucy, Kouta felt fully helpless when he discovered both the injured Nana and the shaken Mayu had also left, each for their own reasons (Nana to aid Bando against Lucy, Mayu to apologize to Bando, who she knew had been searching for Lucy, yet hadn't told of).
Feeling he had no choice, Kouta sought out Arakawa, whose only advice concerned the danger that horned girls posed. Still naïve to the ways of the world, especially the paranoid world Lucy emerged from, Kouta didn't realize Arakawa had followed him, revealing to the man she worked for where Lucy was once and for all. Oblivious to this, Kouta brought back the three young ladies under his charge, Nyu, Mayu and Nana, there to have dinner and also press them all for what they knew about all the odd situations they'd found themselves in. While Nana was perhaps ready to talk, while Mayu had been told all about the Diclonius, and while Nyu's horns had once more been broken, leaving Lucy behind, all was not right outside of Maple House.
As the family was having dinner and awaiting word on Nozomi's admission to a special music school, the front doors burst away from their hinges, revealing an invading military force that terrorized the group and started causing injuries when their loudly-shouted orders weren't adhered to fast enough. Besides heavily armed and armored soldiers, the group included a rough-hewn Agent, the arrogant scientist Nousou and three clones of the late Mariko Kurama. When even little Wanta proved to be fair game for the soldiers, Kouta snapped, grabbed a gun and held Nousou hostage, even adjusting his threats when Nousou taunted him. Sadly, all this accomplished was getting him shot by the Agent, who had threatened to do so already, and who, as a result of secret loyalties, had to preserve Nousou's life. As Kouta fell, several things in the situation and in his life permanently shook loose.
All the ladies in Maple House, already agitated and fearful due to the break-in, were in shock when they saw Kouta shot. Nana, who had argued with him early on; Mayu, who had once felt menaced by him; Nozomi, who had a crush on him, and most strongly, Yuka and Nyu, who loved him. But for Nyu, this went one step further. As Lucy, her entire reason for surviving as long as she had and returning to Kouta had been to one day apologize for her actions, and maybe even get his forgiveness, this in addition to her love for him. In effect, a lifeline had been cut, but the sight was so traumatic, it was not Lucy who emerged to seek vengeance, but Nyu, who re-grew her horns as she rampaged against the soldiers, putting the attack force on the run, including slicing Mariko clone Cynthia in two at the waist.
At this sight, Kouta painfully lost the block on his memories and realized, once and for all, that the girl he called Nyu was also the childhood friend that had murdered his family eight years before. As Nyu's heart sunk, Kouta vowed to seek justice for his sister and father. As helicopter attack ships hovered overhead, Lucy fully emerged, knowing her time with Kouta was done. She left, asking Yuka to watch over Kouta, and Nana to watch over their family and home. Somehow, despite the blood, carnage and potential charges against the residents of Maple House for aiding and abetting Lucy, medical help was obtained for them, especially the badly wounded Kouta and Nozomi, who had her throat injured in a chokehold. While events swirled around him, Kouta lay recovering, sometimes agitated and fitful as the memories he'd fought against for so long came back full force.
About a week later, Kouta arose from his hospital bed, somehow sensing that Lucy/Nyu had returned, and that he would find her back at Yuigahama Beach, where they first met again as young adults. He was far from healed or even ready to move on his own, but he felt compelled to greet her, demanding answers of why she had killed his family. Lucy/Nyu felt his fury, and her answers about evolution, a DNA voice and her alienation failed to move him. As she cried, he said that he could never forgive what she had done. (A common misconception is that he forgave her in the anime. This is not the case. His tone towards her was simply gentler, and he confessed his love for the girl she had once been.) Kouta held out some hope. Since he did not wish to lose Nyu, he told Lucy that she could remain and live with them at Maple House, provided she never killed again. She agreed, but almost in the next moment, her old enemy Doctor Kurama tried to kill her. To keep her promise to Kouta, Lucy was prepared to allow this, but the DNA Voice within her, which she had previously assumed to be merely a vicious guide, rose up and took control, severing Kurama's arm. Witnessing this, Kouta scorned her for not even keeping her promise for as much as a minute, and said outright that he hated her, sending Lucy into open despair.
But as a desperate Kurama took aim once more, Kouta belied his recent words and took the bullet for Lucy, a second gunshot wound in less than one week being enough to finish him. As he slipped away, Kouta excused his action, saying that he did not wish her to die before they had resolved things, like he had with Kanae. At his approaching loss, Lucy's powers went wild, threatening Kamakura, Japan, and the entire world before she realized that her power, properly applied, could save Kouta's life. Dying from power overuse and determined not to let the one she loved die with her, Lucy took to mending him as best she could. Lucy defended their position from all comers, singing the titular poem/song 'Elfenlied' as she went. Kouta indeed awoke, not recovered but no longer dying, only to find the hideous cost of what she had done for him.
Lucy/Nyu's body was melted; her power usage had finally compromised it's integrity beyond healing. Still alive and in agony, she begged a despondent Kouta to fulfill their childhood promise and kill her. Reconciling to some extant in a vision, they exchanged a promise that they would one day meet again back in the spot they first met, on the anniversary of that first day. Kouta was still reluctant, even when the essences of Lucy and Nyu departed the body, leaving only the vicious Diclonius DNA Voice entity, who killed a final wave of soldiers, then tried to kill Lucy/Nyu's friends. Still in agony, it was surprised and even impressed when Kouta still couldn't kill her, for how much he had loved Nyu. A final plea forced Kouta to finally end her life.
Kouta stayed in the hospital for a time, his recovery completed after a few months, and rejoined his family at Maple House. The last present-timeframe scene had all the residents attending the Kamakura Summer Festival, where Kouta left each successive year to go to the spot he and Lucy/Nyu had first met. On the tenth year anniversary, he arrived in the company of his daughter, a girl named Nyuu, in honor of his friend. Since the girl resembles a younger Yuka, it is widely presumed that the two finally married some time after Lucy's death. Kouta also describes a ruinous war crafted by Lucy's captors and enemies, and how it nearly drove Humans to extinction, but details are sparse in the manga.
As Kouta and Little Nyuu contemplate going back home, Nyuu digs up a note, stuck inside a bottle, in the spot where Young Lucy buried her puppy after bullies killed it. The note is a full confession of Young Lucy's tender feelings for Kouta, showing him once and for all his childhood friend was genuine. Little Nyuu also reveals that she has been playing with twins who live in the area. These twin girls emerge, proclaiming Kouta to be their special friend, and one of them even has the name Kaede, Lucy's true birth name, revealed in the note Kouta read. Kouta smiles, realizing these girls are the reincarnations of Nyu and Lucy.